Best ATV Winches: Our Top Picks for Making Off-Roading Easier
Find the right winch for your off-roading needs with our handy guide
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BY Katherine Rother / LAST UPDATED ON August 11, 2019
Off-roading is a great hobby, but it can lead to a few sticky situations when your ATV gets caught in rough terrain. An ATV winch is the right tool to get you out of trouble. Winches come in all shapes and sizes, so it’s easy to get lost in the variety. Our handy guide makes finding the best ATV winch for your needs an easy exercise.
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Benefits of an ATV Winch
- They can free your ATV. If you’re a frequent off-roader, you’ll find that your ATV can get stuck in the sand, mud, or another terrain. That’s where a winch comes in handy—you can get your ATV unstuck from almost any situation.
- They’re multipurpose. Although built especially for ATV use, ATV winches can come in handy in a couple of situations. If you ever need some pulling power while you’re out and about in nature, a winch will be the tool to fall back on.
- They’re powerful. Gone are the days of having to pull and push your ATV by hand, hoping you’re strong enough to load it back on the truck. A winch will do all the hard work for you, letting you enjoy the adrenaline rush of your hobby.
- They can be semi-permanent. If you’re not a fan of permanently attaching something to your vehicle than a semi-permanent winch offers no commitment while delivering lots of power. It’s perfect if you’re only off-roading once in a while.
Types of ATV Winches
Steel Winch Cable
Steel is a strong, hardworking alloy that needs very little ongoing maintenance and is always good to go when it’s needed. Since metal is a great conductor, steel wire easily radiates heat away, keeping the winch cool while in use. That being said, it’s also heavy-duty and needs a higher-powered motor to work properly, which can put stress on your ATV’s front suspension. Steel also becomes dangerously uncontrollable if the cable snaps mid-winch.
Synthetic Winch Rope
A synthetic rope is lighter and easier to handle when compared to the steel cable option. It also doesn’t hold kinetic energy, so if it snaps mid-winch it won’t whiplash back like a steel cable. That being said, it’s also not as robust as steel and will fray and wear down over time. It requires ongoing maintenance, including cleaning, drying, and spooling, making it more costly in terms of upkeep than steel.
Based in Compton, California, Smittybilt recently celebrated its 60th anniversary. That equals a solid 60 years of experience making powerful winches and other automotive gear. They pride themselves on creating easy-to-use winches that don’t skimp on pulling power, such as this consumer favorite, the XRC winch.
The Rugcel Winch Company is an online-based manufacturer and retailer that aims to create great products for consumers. Founded more than a decade ago, its products continue to evolve into better, more powerful winches and other automotive accessories. A top seller is this waterproof model.
Champion Power Equipment
With winches created for nearly everything you can imagine, Champion’s goal is to make sure you have the lifting power you need for any situation. A global company, Champion has headquarters in the United States, Canada, and Europe. One of its best sellers includes this 3,000-lb winch kit.
ATV Winch Pricing
- Under $100: Budget options can be found in this price range. In general, they’ll be less robust, less powerful, and less durable than more expensive options, but they will get the job done if you don’t want to invest that much cash.
- $100-$200: At the mid-range, you can choose between a wide variety of quality winches (although a synthetic rope is pricier than steel cable). You’ll find powerful motors and great features in this class, along with sleek designs and permanent or semi-permanent mounting options.
- Over $200: This price range is for serious enthusiasts who go off-roading every weekend. If you expect your ATV winch to get a lot of use, this is the way to go. Powerful motors, quality cable, and durable mounting options round out the qualities in these products.
You’ll want to look for balance here because a powerful motor will get your ATV moving, but a motor that’s too powerful will blow out your engine. Check the specs of your engine carefully, and compare it to the rating of the winch.
It’s critical to check the maximum load and weight of your ATV. You’ll want a winch that can handle this weight plus a little extra. This will ensure that environmental factors won’t keep you from getting your four-wheeler unstuck.
The important question to ask yourself is, how often do you need your winch? Follow that up with whether or not it would bother you to have one as a permanent fixture on your vehicle. Then you can narrow down your options. Removable and permanent mounting options exist. Removable ones tend to lose power under pressure, and permanent ones are just that, permanent.
- Rope Versus Cable: Either option comes with pros and cons. If you’re looking for the sturdiest option, you’ll want to grab a cable winch. However, rope winches offer more flexibility and are lighter weight.
- Safety: Staying safe while using your winch is an important consideration. Most winches come with a whole host of safety features, allowing you to operate the machine from a safe distance and preventing overloading of the winch system. Watch out for these features when making a purchasing decision.
- Materials: Make sure that your new winch is fashioned from solid materials that have been put together well. Good craftsmanship is critical to being able to safely operate your winch. It’ll also ensure that your new product lasts a long time.
Best ATV Winch Reviews & Recommendations 2021
- If you’ve got a steel winch cable, keep in mind that you should never handle it with your bare hands. Always wear thick gloves when winching, and don’t allow the cable to slide through your hands to avoid potential injuries from fraying or snapping.
- Although winch and tow cables look pretty similar, they’re designed for very different purposes. That means, never tow with a winch cable, as it can damage the winch drum and the bushings, resulting in a costly repair and lots of hassle.
- Never hold onto the hook end of the winch cable. It might be tempting to grip it while it’s rolling up, but you might find yourself in a sticky situation with your fingers pinched in the winch drum. To avoid just that, most companies make winch hook straps.
- To avoid overheating the sensitive winch electronics, you’ll only want to winch for brief spurts and not for long periods of time. Pull for about a minute, then take a quick break and let the components cool down.
- Winch cables can easily damage trees, so if you find yourself with only a tree as a tow point, make sure to use a strap at least three inches wide to wrap around the tree instead.
Q: How do I install my ATV winch?
A: It’s a fairly straightforward process, but it does take some time and an extra set of hands. It’s important to start off by reading the installation instructions specific to your ATV winch before you begin and to follow the directions. In most cases, you’ll need to install a mounting plate onto your bumper and hook up the wiring to your engine.
Q: What’s the typical feet per minute line speed of an ATV winch?
A: That depends a lot on the type and quality of the winch itself. A good rule of thumb is about 10 feet per minute at 3,500. Most good winches will be able to deliver something in that range.
Q: Do I need to purchase the mounting plate separately?
A: In most cases, the mounting plate and most of the accessories needed for installation come included in the packaging of the winch you decide to buy. That being said, budget options might come with less, so check the product description carefully.
Q: How do I hook up my winch cable to my ATV?
A: The safest way to do this is with a mounting plate on your ATV. That will protect the front suspension and evenly apply force, which also helps to prevent unexpected snapping of the wire rope or cable. In a pinch, you can attach the cable to a sturdy beam on your ATV, but we don’t recommend doing that often.
Our top pick is the Smittybilt XRC Winch. It’s a solid choice with a powerful winching motor and a high load rating at 9,500 pounds.
If you’re looking for a winch that won’t break the bank, check out the Champion 3000-lb ATV/UTV Winch Kit. It functions surprisingly well for the price.